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As I checked my rear view mirror I could just make out two faint pinpoints of light a long way behind me in the darkness. It was the first vehicle I had seen on these roads since leaving the Motorway. Sometimes the two lights would disappear as the country lane twisted and turned its way between the trees and hedges, but each time they reappeared they seemed to be a lot closer. I naturally assumed they were the headlights of a car or a goods vehicle, and at that stage I was merely curious as I prepared to pull over, as much as I dared, to permit the vehicle to pass. When the lights drew closer, I became puzzled because they weren't headlights as I had imagined, but sidelights. "Whatever the vehicle might be", I mused, "the driver was taking one hell of a chance, driving at that speed on a frosty road, without headlights. Another thought struck me, It didn't necessarily have to be a single vehicle., It could be two motorbikes travelling side by side.* I smiled to myself as I recalled the old joke and my mind wandered back to my schooldays. This joke like all the others had gone round and round the school for a few days before being replaced by a new one. Where had those jokes originated I pondered. From some comedian on the radio perhaps? A joke book? Not all of them though, some were very crude indeed. A flicker of light in my mirror caught my eye again.
The lights were a lot nearer now and it became obvious to me that they couldn't belong to a car or a truck: they were positioned too high above the road, and I started to feel just a little uneasy as my mind conjured up other gargantuan alternatives. A combine harvester maybe? Or earthmoving equipment such as a digger or a bulldozer? My uneasiness very quickly changed to panic as I realised the breakneck speed at which the vehicle was gaining on me, and I became aware that it couldn't possibly slow down on the icy road in time and as it had made no attempt to pull over and pass me it was about to run into the back of my car. I can remember thinking. "My God. The bloody thing must surely be driven by a maniac". I tried not to panic as I realised that if I stopped suddenly, I would be crushed beneath the giant wheels or tracks. I fought down the instinct to increase my speed in order to put some distance between myself and whatever was back there, as I was afraid that I might skid off the icy road at one of the many bends.
Once again I glanced in the rear-view mirror. The lights were only a few yards away from me now and to my amazement, in the dim light cast by the sidelights, I could just make out what appeared to be the sloping front of a touring caravan. I blinked my eyes and looked again, there was no doubt about it, there was a caravan following me so closely that it could have been hitched to my car. By any standards, what I was seeing was impossible. But it was irrefutable; THE CARAVAN WAS THERE. I couldn't see a vehicle hitched to the front of it; there wasn't enough space to fit one in between it and my car anyway. It must be travelling by itself, on two side wheels and the jockey wheel? "No! That was ridiculous. Not at that speed". The hedges and trees lining the road were fairly whipping past now and the speedometer indicated that while I had been distracted, my speed had crept up from thirty-five to sixty miles an hour. For a time I was too stunned to be afraid of skidding on the ice, as the bizarre object matched its speed to mine and continued to travel behind as if it was connected to the towing bracket of my car. Then terror overcame me, as I finally realised the incongruity of what was happening. In blind panic I did the most foolish thing I could do. I slammed on the brakes.
* * *
That Saturday had started out just the same as any other Saturday when I'm not at work. I had donned a pair of old jeans and a sweater and was sorting some tools out in preparation for doing a few jobs round the house. Meanwhile my wife Gwen was preparing breakfast in the kitchen. Every thing was going smoothly when at about nine thirty, just as the meal was nearly ready, Gwen received a phone call from her mother's next door neighbour Jean Parsons. She informed Gwen that her mother had slipped down the last few steps of the stairs and badly sprained her ankle. Fortunately she had managed pull herself along the floor to the telephone and call Jean and she had called a doctor. He had insisted that she rest the ankle for at least four or five days: gave her a prescription for some anti inflammation tablets and some painkillers, and with a promise to send a nurse round to bind the ankle; he left her to the ministrations of Jean who had promised to she would take care of her until she could get some help.
Gwen's mother, I should explain, was a widow in her seventies, who lived on her own, one hundred and eighty miles to the North of us, in Yorkshire. This arrangement wasn't very satisfactory as the two of them had always had a close relationship, and since our marriage we had all lived in the same area. Unfortunately I was forced to move to the Midlands when the company had decamped down there two years ago. This family split up was the main reason that I was searching the ads and agencies for a job back in Yorkshire, the other reason being the constant admonitions from my wife about the excessive amount of overtime I had to work at my present job, which she insisted, was making me depressed and irritable. Whether what she was saying was true or not, I'll leave you to judge when you have heard the rest of my story. Meanwhile, to return to that Saturday morning.
After a further few minutes chit-chat. Gwen thanked the kindly neighbour; quickly packed a few things, and asked me to drive her up there so that she could look after the old girl until she was back on her feet again. My mother in law is fiercely independent and as tough as old boots, so I knew that as soon as she was anywhere near recovery, my wife would soon get her marching orders and come back home again. I hadn't spent many Saturdays at home over the past twelve months due to a sudden surge in orders that the company I work for had received. The only solution that they had dreamed up to cope with the extra work was to persuade everyone to work all the hours that God sends. This meant that most weeks I had to work nine and ten hours a day, plus week ends. As a result, as the weeks went by, those little jobs that constantly crop up round the house were turning into major tasks. The garden, my pride and joy, was becoming overgrown with weeds, and everywhere else I looked seemed to need some attention or a fresh coat of paint. My wife has always refused to get involved with these tasks and she still reminds me at regular intervals. 'I've got plenty to do, what with the cooking, the washing, the ironing, keeping the house tidy after you, polishing and vacuuming.'etc, etc. Consequently only the week before Gwen's mom's accident, I had decided that I must take the following Saturday and Sunday off to get some of the jobs done. I had just been laying out my tools for a two-day assault on the tasks, when Gwen received the call. That message had certainly scuppered my plans, because by the time I had taken Gwen up to her mothers; gone shopping with her to the local supermarket, and performed various other numerous small tasks, Saturday was nearly over. This meant that I only had Sunday left for at least tackling some of the work that I had planned. I decided therefore, to travel back home on the Saturday evening in order that I could get stuck in first thing on the Sunday morning, thus giving myself one complete day at least.
I said goodbye to the wife and her mother at about half past seven in the evening and headed back down the M1. I felt tired, but the journey was uneventful until I was nearly home, at which point I remember thinking that as it was such a lovely night, I'd leave the Motorway and take the greenbelt route through the lanes the rest of the way and enjoy the country scenery by moon light, "after all", I thought. "I'm in no hurry to get back to an empty house". It was seasonably cold for mid January; with a clear star studded sky, and a bright full moon. The frost that covered the hedges and fields shone like silver as it reflected the moonglow. Each enchanting scene gave way to another as I happily followed the winding lanes over hill and dale. I went about two miles in this happy mood, when suddenly, I woke up; my heart pounding, the hedges and trees on the left-hand side of me dangerously close. As I instinctively pulled back toward the centre of the road. I had fallen asleep at the wheel for an instant. Alarmed by the experience, I reduced speed and wound down the window. The dashboard clock said the time was nine-o-clock.
I had felt fit enough until then, but I'd been driving here and there, fetching and carrying, off and on, since early that morning and quite suddenly my exertions must have caught up with me because I realised that I was dog-tired. My eyelids felt as if they had weights attached to them, and I still had eight miles to go. I knew I must stop and rest as soon as possible or I would fall asleep again. Often, when I'm in such a state of weariness, a line of a song or poetry starts to repeat itself in my brain .On this occasion due to the moonlight I suppose, it was a line of poetry from, "The Highwayman," by Alfred Noyes, a favourite of mine. It drummed away in my head. "The road was a ribbon of moonlight, across the purple moor." "The road was a ribbon of moonlight, across the purple moor." "The road was a ribbon of moonlight..." Eventually I saw a convenient farm gateway and I pulled in and switched off the engine. Sleepily I pulled myself out of the warm cocoon of the car, and stood looking around me, drinking in the atmosphere. To my left through the gap in the hedges near the roadside where I had parked I could see a copse of wintry black, leafless trees, their skeletal branches rustling and cracking in the bitterly cold east wind. Ahead, picked out in pale grey by the moonlight, I could see the road quite clearly for about a mile as it wound away from me, down the hill; across the valley and into the distance. To my right over the hedges I could see frost dusted fields rolling away to the horizon. It reminded me of a huge backdrop for a production of Swan Lake" I had once seen. Only the ballet dancing swan-maidens were missing.
For a while I stood enjoying the view, utterly entranced. Sadly the spell only lasted for three or four minutes before the bitter cold started to penetrate my light suit, and clouds began to drift across the face of the moon casting dark shadows over the scene. The moment was lost and I was glad to get back into the warmth of the car.
I always maintain that reading about a scene or an event
is often more satisfying than actually being present, The reason
I say this is that although I find that spiritually I'm enjoying
the experience Physically it's a different matter altogether.
There is nearly always some irritation that impinges itself between
me and my enjoyment. For example. Let's say I visit renowned beauty
spot. I have travelled a hundred miles to get there. But I am
delighted to discover it is a veritable paradise and I eagerly
get my binoculars and my deckchair from the car and prepare to
feast my eyes for a few hours on this Garden of Eden. Can you
picture it as you sit there in your comfortable chair? Right well
I can guarantee that within minutes I begin to feel too hot, or
too cold, or its too windy even worse it starts raining. Or you
might say the weather could be perfect? So ok the weather might
be perfect. Then I am plagued with swarms of gnats, or hoards
of flies or nests of wasps. Do you see what I mean? Then if the
landscape is set in Britain I could find that my vantagepoint
as been turned into an unofficial rubbish tip by some of the previous
thoughtless visitors who insist in leaving their litter behind
them wherever they descend. Last but not least in fact worse than
all the other irritants, some idiot arrives with a transistor
radio insisting he share his or her hideous screaming disco cacophony.
So maybe different things annoy you or maybe not, but I'm sure
you understand what I'm trying to say. "You get more enjoyment
at home in bed reading about it all from book". Anyway due
to the freezing weather you can see how this sojourn quickly degenerated
into the usual fiasco.
The cold did serve a useful purpose however as I was now definitely wide-awake. Back in the car, I wound the window back up; restarted the engine, and made sure that the heater was full on. Then just as I was about to pull away, I saw two pinpoints of light, which appeared to be winking on and off as they passed behind the hedges and trees to my left about a hundred yards away, moving almost parallel to the lane I was about to continue travelling again. They looked like the side and taillights of a car, but before I could be certain they disappeared behind a copse of trees. I knew there was a rough track over there which joined my lane further ahead, it lead to a picnic area, high above a steep sided, picturesque valley, with a river wending its way along the bottom. I assumed the car or whatever it was, was travelling along this track. I pulled away and thought no more about it. I must have travelled half mile past the junction with the rough track, when a glance in my rear view mirror revealed two pinpoints of light following behind me.
* * *
Luckily for me, there was no other traffic about and the car,
skidding to a halt on the frosty road, stayed more or less in
a straight line, but now that I had stopped, I was terrified at
the thought of what I was going to see. Every nerve in my body
was telling me to leave the car and just run like mad as far away
as I could possibly go. Reluctantly, I checked the mirrors again
hoping I'd imagined it all. No. The caravan was still there, its
sidelights and my rear lights making its wide curtained window
at the front, eerily visible. It took every ounce of willpower
I had, to climb out of the car and look toward the rear. "
Thank heavens. There was nothing there! Relief flooded through
me, soon followed by alarm. What on earth was wrong with me"?
Bemused, I stood outside the car getting colder and colder, until
I could bear it no longer. As I prepared to climb back into the
vehicle, I assured myself that I was wide-awake by pinching myself
a few times. Once back inside the car I immediately checked the
mirrors. It was there again, my heart sank, "I'm going mad".
I thought. Perspiration ran down my face and my back. I was ill,
I needed assistance. I had taken this route in order to enjoy
its solitude, but now I longed to be amongst of people. If I stepped
on it I could get back on to the main road in about five minutes.
I must get help quickly before I finally went over the edge. My
mind made up; I put car in gear, and sped away as if the devil
himself was after me
I was oblivious to the danger of skidding as I tried to look directly ahead and ignore what was behind me, but the more I tried not to, the more I was compelled to look, At one stage I twisted the mirror to one side so that I could no longer see through it, but my wing mirrors still forced me to keep looking at the apparition so I returned the mirror to its correct position again, and with each glimpse, the lighted up front of the spectral caravan bobbing along behind me became more and more sinister. I continued this headlong rush for five minutes or so, during which time I found myself desperately babbling prayers I hadn't said for years adding to each one, "please let it disappear". Then another glance revealed that the curtains were gradually opening, an inch at a time. My nerves were screaming at me to look, not to look, keep going, stop and run. Finally, after what seemed a lifetime, there was a glimmer of hope? Two lines of streetlights about five hundred yards ahead. I sobbed with relief, the main road, at last. My eyes were drawn back to the mirror for a further glance. My relief turned to amazement and then horror as I continued to look despite my dread. The caravan curtains were now wide open. If only they had stayed closed I might have made the main road and recovered completely from the ordeal, but the mind can't take in the horror I saw, and emerge unscathed.
At first, framed in the window, was a pleasantly attractive middle aged woman. Her gaze seemed to be concentrated on some task she was performing; her right hand was raised slightly as if she was gripping some object while the other hand was resting on top of the unseen object. What caused my amazement was that she appeared to be pouring tea from a teapot. I seem to remember that this commonplace homely scene allayed my fears somehow, after all I suppose it's hard to feel threatened by someone pouring tea whether they belong to this world or the next. Things were looking up; all right I knew was ill. I'd read about nervous breakdowns and I new I must be having one because my eyes were fooling me into believing that I was pulling a caravan which didn't really exist watching a woman who also didn't exist, pouring tea. On the other hand I was now only about two minutes from the busy main road, and my ordeal would soon be over. I planned to park my car in a lay-by I knew before I caused an accident, then from the nearby telephone box, I would call for an ambulance. Right?
Wrong! Suddenly, incredibly and horribly the woman burst into
flames, just like that, one instant she was pouring tea the next
she was being consumed by a fire. I groaned "Oh God no".
She began to disintegrate before my eyes. I tore my gaze away,
and began muttering over and over again. I must have sounded like
Quasimodo. "The main road, oh please, the main road."
For about a minute, which seemed more like an hour, I managed
to avert my gaze, but then the inevitable happened, I looked again.
My eyes were drawn to what was just about recognisable as once
being a face, glowing yellow in the taillights. The eyes had no
pupils anymore, but were just grey/white orbs, which appeared
to be staring right into the depths of my soul. Tufts of hair,
charred and shrivelled, still clung to the soot-blackened skull.
The flesh that must have formed the lips had gone, revealing blackened
remnants of teeth, which seemed to be maniacally grinning at me.
I snatched my gaze away again and repeating, "The lights,
oh please the lights." I was determined not to look again
I was close enough to the main road to see a couple of cars flash
past the end of the lane. "Thank God" I said, "I've
made it". Just then I sensed a presence behind me, I felt
the hairs on the back of my neck rise and despite my efforts to
gaze fixedly ahead, I took another look in the mirror, and screamed.
She was inside the car. Even as I looked the abomination lifted
its arms as if reaching towards me, with blackened claw like fingers,
I felt one hand clutch my shoulder and I screamed again in terror
and managed to jerk my eyes away from the mirror for the last
time. I looked ahead and saw that I had driven half way across
the main road, and was heading for the lane opposite, In my panic
I was barely aware that I had cut across the path of a large Jaguar
sports car which was swerving and skidding to avoid me, its tyres
squealing in protest. Instinctively, I slammed on my own brakes
and stopped in the entrance to the lane and with the strength
of the deranged, almost before the car had stopped, I was out
of the door and running along the well lit main road faster than
I had ever run in my life.
I continued for about Five hundred yards or so by which time I was so exhausted I was forced to halt. I spent a long time, bent double, struggling to get my breath back and then still breathing heavily, I forced myself to look back to the distant crossroads where my car had stopped. By the light from the main road I saw the caravan was gone. My relief was palpable. I was so elated, I burst into tears. After a while I regained some composure and noticed that on the opposite side of the road just beyond the crossroads a Jaguar sportswear appeared to be skewed across the pavement at an odd angle. No traffic, so far as I had noticed, had passed by since I had escaped from my car a good five or six minutes ago, so plucking up courage, I made my way across the road, and back in the direction I had come to see if anyone needed help. Before I reached the spot however, two cars passed me going in the same direction and one after the other they both halted near the Jaguar. By the time I arrived, the Police and an Ambulance were on the way, having been summoned by one of the drivers on his mobile phone. The Jaguar driver was beyond help. He had swerved, hit a huge tree head on, and had been killed instantly.
* * *
When the police arrived, Like a fool, I tried telling them about the caravan and what had happened to me. Then I tried to convince them I was telling the truth, but It was all to no avail, After I'd been breathalysed, they assumed I was suffering from shock and the ambulance took me to the local hospital. The next day I couldn't even remember who I was and I spent the next six months in a psychiatric hospital being treated for a complete mental breakdown. Over the many months as I gradually improved I was encouraged to jot down any snatches of memory that came back to me as a form of therapy. Eventually when my memory was completely restored, I put the jottings in order and they form the basis of this account. When my psychiatrist read it he explained that, what I thought I'd seen had been the result of the nervous breakdown, which in turn had been the result of stress caused by overwork. I didn't believe a word of it, but I wasn't going to tell him that in case he decided to keep me in the hospital for further treatment.
A few weeks after my release, the inquest on the dead man finally took place, it had been delayed until I was fit to attend. The verdict was accidental death; the only piece of evidence that was questionable was the bruising and abrasions on his neck. But it was assumed they must have been inflicted in some way before the accident and was not a contributory cause. When I was called I didn't mention the caravan, or the woman, for fear of being ridiculed. I did discover however that the dead man had, shortly before the crash, been suspected of murdering his wife. His story had been that, having just arrived at a local beauty spot, where they were intending to spend the weekend, His wife went into their caravan to make tea. She was boiling the kettle on the gas-stove, while he was levelling up the support feet. His defence had been that the caravan had started to roll on the slight incline, and before he could do anything to stop it, had plunged down an embankment, smashed into some rocks, and caught fire. The inquest on his wife judged that her death was due to misadventure. The fact that she was heavily insured, raised police suspicions, but he got off Scot-free as there was no incriminating evidence ever found.
My view is that when I passed through the area that night the time was just right for me to reach the main-road as he came by in the Jag. The apparition that haunted my car had intended to panic me into driving across his path, causing him to crash. I often wonder what would have happened, if the exact juxtaposition of the cars hadn't been correct that night, or any other time. Would the macabre tryst have taken place or would he have lived his life out to its natural conclusion? And those fingers that were probably reaching for him, I still wonder whether, in those final few seconds, did they actually grip him by the throat, hence the marks. I don't really know. There's one thing I know for certain though. I'll never be the quite the same again. Before the accident I used to own a touring caravan; my wife and I had travelled the length and breadth of the country with it and we had some great times. But I couldn't go anywhere near it after that awful experience. I still sometimes dread looking in the rear mirror, for fear I might see that horrible grin, and relive the terror over again.
Despite the fact that my towing days are definitely over, and the occasional nightmare I still have, some good did come out of it all though. When I was tidying up my memory jottings into story form, I discovered that I enjoyed writing so much, I decided to try to make a career of it. I was lucky, I quickly found a very good agent and in no time I was making a decent living from my efforts, which enabled me to buy a large house back in Yorkshire, close to where Gwen's mother lives. I tend to write thrillers mainly; this is my one and only attempt at writing a ghost story, and my last I might add. The exercise brought back too many unpleasant memories. So as you can well understand, from now on I shall leave ghost stories for others to write....
* Two lads on a motorbike were tearing along a road at night doing all the daft things that lads on motorbikes do, when the lad who was driving said to the pillion passenger ' Hey Charlie, see them two motorbikes in front riding side by side?'
'Yes mate' Charlie replied. 'What about em.'
'Watch me ride through the middle of em, that'll give em a shock.'
Unfortunately what he thought were two motorbikes turned out to be the taillights of a ten-ton lorry.
I never found it funny either. The author.
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